Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., received pushback Thursday after claiming her family "might've just starved" had the Trump administration's tightened requirements for food stamp recipients been in place when her father died in 2008.
Critics claimed the freshman congresswoman misrepresented the new rule, pointing out that it applies only to childless, able-bodied adults under 50.
The Agriculture Department (USDA) finalized the first of three proposed rules targeting the Supplemental Nutrition Program, known as SNAP. The plan announced Wednesday will limit states from exempting work-eligible adults from having to maintain steady employment in order to receive benefits.
Ocasio-Cortez, 30, responded to the announcement on Twitter on Thursday:
“My family relied on food stamps (EBT) when my dad died at 48. I was a student. If this happened then, we might’ve just starved. Now, many people will,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “It’s shameful how the GOP works overtime to create freebies for the rich while dissolving lifelines of those who need it most.”
The New York Democrat was 19 and about to begin her sophomore year at Boston University when her father, Sergio Ocasio, died of lung cancer. It is likely her mother still would have claimed her as a dependent at that time.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think tank, challenged the “Squad” member’s claim, writing:
“The rule applies to able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 who do not have dependents. The rule wouldn’t apply to parents with minor children, the elderly, or disabled people.”
Several Twitter users also slammed the New York Democrat for spreading “Fake News” online by implying the new rule prevents children from receiving benefits. Some users also pointed out that able-bodied adults between ages 18 and 49 without dependents can still qualify for food stamps if they train or work a minimum of 20 hours a week.
“Create 'freebies' for the rich @AOC? You and your radical, socialist crew believe the Forgotten men and women, every day middle-class Americans are the 'rich'. Tax relief for hard working Americans is hardly a 'freebie,' Catalina Lauf, a Republican candidate seeking a U.S. House seat from Illinois’ 14th Congressional District, wrote in response to Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet. Lauf -- the 26-year-old daughter of a small-business owner and a legal immigrant from Guatemala – has been billed by some as the Republican counterweight to Ocasio-Cortez.
SNAP feeds more than 36 million people. Under current rules, work-eligible able-bodied adults without dependents and between the ages of 18 and 49 can receive only three months of SNAP benefits in a three-year period if they don’t meet the 20-hour work requirement.
The new rule, which will take effect on April 1, 2020, imposes stricter criteria for states to meet in order to issue waivers. Under the plan, states can only issue waivers if a city or county has an unemployment rate of 6 percent or higher. The waivers will be good for one year and will require the governor to support the request.
The USDA estimates the change would save roughly $5.5 billion over five years and cut benefits for roughly 688,000 SNAP recipients. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the rule will help move people “from welfare to work.”
“We’re taking action to reform our SNAP program in order to restore the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population and be respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program,” Perdue told reporters Wednesday. “Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch. That’s the commitment behind SNAP, but, like other welfare programs, it was never intended to be a way of life.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the plan will only serve to punish workers whose jobs are seasonal or unreliable. She is the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry. “This administration is out of touch with families who are struggling to make ends meet by working seasonal jobs or part-time jobs with unreliable hours,” Stabenow said, according to The Associated Press.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also blasted the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce public benefits, saying: “Instead of combating food insecurity for millions, connecting workers to good-paying jobs or addressing income inequality, the administration is inflicting their draconian rule on millions of Americans across the nation who face the highest barriers to employment and economic stability.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.